The Knicks made a strong play for Warriors point guard D’Angelo Russell at Thursday’s trade deadline – still not convinced they want to move on with Elfrid Payton.
Payton continued to show that they should, staging his second straight spectacular outing – seven steals, nine assists, 15 points. Yet his future is as cloudy as ever. Payton signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the second one a team option.
“I’m just playing hard,” said Payton, who hates talking about himself.
Payton was spared at the trade deadline but the Clippers got the Knicks’ best player in Marcus Morris. The Knicks point guard believes the Clippers have set them up to make The Finals.
“I think he’s going to be a great addition for them,’’ Payton said. “I think that makes them the favorite coming out of the West. They’re getting a dog, somebody who’s going to go hard every night and having one of the best seasons of his career.’’
The day before the trade deadline, Payton said he thought the Knicks had “enough’’ on the roster to continue their recent winning ways, maybe even sneak into a playoff race.
That probably was busted when Morris got dealt for draft picks Thursday, though the Knicks continued to plow on to their third straight win over Orlando, moving six games out of the eighth seed.
If Payton keeps up this play, he’ll be having a career year like Morris. You can make a case the Knicks’ record of 16-36 wouldn’t look as bad as it did if Payton didn’t miss 17 straight games (hamstring injury) during the David Fizdale era.
With his quick hands on defense, Payton has bounced back with a flourish after a one-game suspension for pushing Jae Crowder, who shot a 3-point shot late in the blowout loss to Memphis nine days ago.
Payton was coming off a triple-double in Cleveland (17 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds) – the first Knick since Walt Frazier to post a triple-double with 15 assists.
In the Russell deal, the Knicks were dangling point guard Frank Ntilikina as part of the package. But a Russell trade would have probably ended Payton’s chances of returning next season.
“For me, it’s nothing,’’ Russell said of the trade deadline. “If it’s nothing I can control, I couldn’t care less. My focus was on Orlando. I’m sure it can be nerve-wracking for other people always checking your phone not knowing what could happen. A lot of emotions. At end of the day you got to do a job. It’s a tough thing overall for most people. I have to keep as normal as possible because you have to be able to perform. That’s always been my mindset.”
Payton, 25, is averaging 9.4 points, 6.8 assists and 4.6 rebounds. However, the thing he doesn’t do well is shoot the 3 (24 percent). Still, the Knicks have to contemplate exercising their team option on Payton for next season – which is $8 million.
Acting president Scott Perry was part of the braintrust that drafted Payton, 25, in Orlando in 2014 and he originally tried to deal for Payton at the 2018 deadline.
“I feel like Scott’s a good leader, man,’’ Payton said. “Somebody I trust with my career. Like you said, he drafted me. I know it’s been a tough year but I still have full trust in Scott. I think he has a vision. I trust Scott. Whatever he does, I’m with him. Win, lose or draw, I’m with Scott.’’
Ultimately, incoming president Leon Rose will have to make that call and it’s noteworthy that Payton is a Creative Artist Agency client whose rep is Aaron Mintz.